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Apr 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Creative Writing Exercises of Paul Matthews, a Steinerian* Genius

Mario Rinvolucri, a Pilgrims associate, wrote THE Q BOOK with John Morgan. It was published by Longman in 1988 and when they let it go out-of-print it was re-published by ELB, Brighton. Looking back, it seems to me to be a weird collection of questionnaires arching across a wide range of fields. It is still odd today, thirty years after its first appearance.


To call the creative writing exercises of Paul Matthews “golden oldies”   feels a bit out-of-focus. They have a feeling of timelessness and draw generously on the last 3000 years of European literary traditions, brought into startling, here-and-now, you-me contexts. It is from Paul’s work that I have learnt that what I thought were simply grammatical structures  are, in fact, deep states of mind that reach down into the unconscious.

Take the INTERROGATIVE: Paul writes: “ QUESTION implies a quest  to find an answer, someone to answer us. Without a question we are forever shut out from the inner life of another. Asking the right questions we unlock possibilities of expression in the other.  It is the beginning of dialogue”

And now for a Matthews exercise:

  1. Give out  this interrogative “poem”  to your class of B2 students:

How did you get here?

Can you really trust snowmen?

What colour is Tuesday?

Or should I take up midwifery instead?

Is this your moon-map?

When did you realise the full horror of the situation?

Where have you hidden my puncture outfit?

Who are you anyway?

Will you marry me?

Have you ordered the deathbed?

Would you kindly restrain your mongoose?

Why such difficult questions?


2. Ask the students to come to the board and write up words they do not know.

Get students to teach EACH OTHER the meanings and only then help them with the words that are new to everybody.

3. Pair the students.Ask them to read the questionnaire to each other in these ways:

Very slowly

Rather fast

Very quietly

Very vigorously


4. Tell the students to work on their own and write 12 questions in a similar wide-ranging vein.

5. Go round yourself and offer language help were it is needed.

6. Ask the students to change partner and to exchange their questionnaire with the new partner. Each student then answers his/her own questions.

7. Allow 3-4 minutes at the end of the exercise for people to share the feelings they had during the work.

I wonder, gentle reader, what your conclusions are after scanning through the above activity?

I don’t know how you feel about the essay titles set for intermediate and advanced students by US and UK examination boards. They are not generally, at first sight, thrilling.Paul Matthews has a neat way of making the writing of exam practice essays much more mind-provoking. (Think in terms of a double period for this activity.)

1. Say the title is BREXIT, A NEW DAWN OR A DIVE INTO DISASTER? Discuss.

2. Divide the class up into six sub-groups.

3. In Group A: each student is to write 8 AFFIRMATIVESTATEMENTS about the topic.(Grammaticallyaffirmative:e.g. “ BREXIT is a mess “.)

4. Group B: each student writes 8 GRAMMATICALLY NEGATIVESTATEMENTS about the topic.

5. Group C: each student writes 8 GRAMATICALLY AFFERMATIVE QUESTIONS.





9. When the writing phase is over in the six groups ask the students

to read out what they have written to the classmates in their sub group.

10. Ask the students to form new groups with one or more people from each of the original groups. In these new groups they read out what they have written and in this way each person gets a partial view of the range of thoughts across the whole class.

11. The class go back to their normal seats and a) make an orderly plan of the essay they are going to write and b) write it, before the excitement of the earlier stages wears off.

12. Go round helping with language where you are needed.

Allow 30—40 minutes for the planning and writing stages. Insist on plans.

13. Round off the lesson by asking for volunteers to read out the essay they have written.

What I find amazing is that for thirty years in EFL classrooms I had not the faintest idea of the way grammatical form channels and governs a person’s thinking.Not the vaguest clue!

I learnt this in my late sixties thanks to meeting Paul Matthews at a Waldorf ** workshop in Germany. Who said an old dog cannot learn to be aware in new ways?

Let me finish up with an area of dialogue writing that may upset your idea of classroom decorum but that Matthews suggests is a useful area of rhetorical training:

1. Let the class (B2 C1) listen to and then read this excerpt from TOM SAWYER, Mark Twain)

“What do I care for your big brother? I’ve got a brother that’s bigger than he is, and , what’s more, he can throw him over that fence too!”

2. Since bullying is a ubiquitous school reality, a literary stimulus like Twain’s words above may well swing your students into heart-felt dialogue writing.

3. Be ready, though, to deal with distress in some of the writers.

4. If a student gets seriously upset, organise a COMFORT CIRCLE.The writer explains his situation and you ask people to share with him what feeling his pain provokes in them. They are not to console him/her or minimise his/her pain, but instead to speak of their own emotion that his story has aroused.

The rationale is to make the “protagonist” feel emotionally surrounded, not all alone, out on a limb.

My hope is that these few lines may have stimulated you to want to read Paul Matthews’                 books… Happy reading!



Matthews, Paul. Sing me the Creation, Hawthorn  Press  1994

Matthews, Paul. Words in Place, Hawthorn Press 2007  

More at


* Rudolf Steiner was a polymath, prolific author and clairvoyant who set up his first school in Germany in 1919. Many schools followed all over Europe and beyond. They are normally known as Waldorf schools. He died in 1925.

Please check the Creative Writing with Mario Rinvolucri course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

  • Creative Writing Exercises of Paul Matthews, a Steinerian* Genius
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK